June 28, 2009
FIFA 2009 Confederation Cup Final: Postgame
I've always said that you have to wait until about a quarter of the way through the second half to decide if an underdog is actually going to win. Even though I developed this theory watching college basketball, it applies to soccer as well and any other sport that has a back and forth nature with many possessions for both sides. The key is momentum. The team that is the clear favorite often comes out a little tense to start the game, as they feel the pressure that is on their shoulders as the favorite. The underdog, on the other hand has no such pressure, as they know that nobody expects them to win. Thus, the underdog often hits the ground running and can grab an early lead over the favorite, simply by virtue of playing without the tension and pressure that comes with being expected to win. Once halftime comes around, though, the favorite usually calms down and begins to play their game and assert themselves. Concurrently, there is a tendency for the underdog with a lead to come out of halftime tense, because they begin to realize that they may actually win. The hallmark of great teams, as opposed to merely good teams, is their ability to handle the mounting pressure as the game moves along. Teams are labeled underdogs for a reason. They are often unable to handle the pressure that comes with taking a lead into halftime. The tendency is to become conservative and get away from what they used to take the lead in the first place. Coming out of the locker room to start the second half, the favorite, the more skilled team, is settled down and very often takes the momentum back. Once on their heels, the underdog rarely is able to regain the momentum and will give up the game. This is a law of competition, and must be kept in mind by anyone that truly wishes to understand the nature of sport.
This was the case in the 2009 FIFA Confederation Cup final, which Brazil won over the United States 3-2, after the USA took a 2-0 lead into halftime. Brazil came out of the locker room aggressive, scored quickly to take the momentum, and then used their superior technical ability to assert themselves and take over the game. The American team as a whole is young and has plenty of room to grow and improve. Even so, the US served notice that they have the ability to compete with the best in the world, and have nothing to hang their heads about. The US team has many things to be proud of and have learned many lessons, I'm sure, from the experience. The task now is to continue the high level of play, and go into the World Cup next year with the confidence and fire that they showed in the last three matches of this tournament. If this tournament helped to turn some Americans on to soccer, even better. In fact, this increased visibility of American soccer may be the achievement with the most lasting affect, even more so than the second-place trophy that the USA soccer team earned this week with grit and determination that all Americans can be proud of.